Rioters Burn Solomon Islands Over Federal Government’s Ties to Beijing: Reports

By Neil Campbell | November 26, 2021
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
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People gather as smoke rises from burnt out buildings in Honiara's Chinatown on November 26, 2021. Tensions arising from Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s handshaking with the Chinese Communist Party are reported to be the source of the riots. (Image: CHARLEY PIRINGI/AFP via Getty Images)

The capital of the Solomon Islands, Honiara, has been sacked by arson, looting, and unrest after a protest calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare descended into violence. 

Early reports came from Radio New Zealand on Nov. 24 that “the protest was being led primarily by people from Malaita Province who said they were not being heard by the national government.”

RNZ characterized the protests as a “culmination of a host of issues that have caused division between people” from Malaita and the federal government.

The article claimed the source of the consternation was “a perceived lack of development within the province, with many large scale national projects promised over the years that have so far failed to get off the ground.” 

However, RNZ did mention “a longrunning standoff” between Malaita Premier Daniel Suidani who “continues to rebel” against the Sogavare administration’s decision to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of the Chinese Communist Party in 2019.

The Solomon Islands are a chain of islands northeast of Australia. The country is home to almost 700,000 residents. The distance from Cairns in the state of Queensland to Honiara is approximately 1,750 kilometers, and the distance from Malaita to the capital is approximately 120 kilometers.

According to a CNN Wire article, the protest originated from “the Prime Minister’s lack of response to a citizen petition filed in August, which included demands for the government to respect the rights of self-determination of the Malaita people, to limit ties with China and to resume development projects in Malaita.”

The outlet said the Islands’ federal police force estimated 2,000 to 3,000 protestors in attendance, with some starting fires, including of a grass hut building on Parliament grounds, and looting buildings.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele, Premier Li Keqiang and State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi attend a signing ceremony in Beijing in September of 2019 after Sogavare severed a 36-year relationship with Taiwan after being tempted by the Communist Party’s benefits.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele, Premier Li Keqiang and State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi attend a signing ceremony in Beijing in September of 2019 after Sogavare severed a 36-year relationship with Taiwan after being tempted by the Communist Party’s benefits. (Image: THOMAS PETER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

In response, Sogavare deployed a 36-hour lockdown, denouncing the protest as “another sad and unfortunate event aimed at bringing a democratically elected government down.”

On Nov. 25, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced he would deploy Australian Federal Police and Australian Defense Force units to the islands after his office “received a formal request under a bilateral security agreement for assistance” from the Sogavare administration.

In September of 2019, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it had terminated diplomatic relations with the Solomon Islands after Sogavare, who took office in April of the same year, broke a 36-year alliance between the two countries in favor of benefits offered by Beijing.

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The Ministry’s Press Release accused the CCP of “once again resort[ing] to dollar diplomacy and false promises of large amounts of foreign assistance to buy off a small number of politicians, so as to ensure that the government of Solomon Islands adopted a resolution to terminate relations with Taiwan before China’s National Day on October 1.”

RNZ noted that just days after Sogavare had signed his pact with Beijing, Central Province Premier Stanley Manetiva agreed to lease the entire Tulagi Island to a mainland Chinese developer in a “strategic cooperation agreement.”

One month later, the federal Attorney General stepped in to terminate the agreement. 

September of 2019 reporting by CNN revealed that the country had agreed to allow China to construct a stadium in Honiara for the purposes of hosting the 2023 Pacific Games.

CNN also paraphrased Taiwan’s Foreign Minister, Wu Zhaoxie as saying “in his understanding, China had promised around $500 million” to the Sogavare administration. 

The outlet also said that Taiwan had sent between $11 and $22 million annually to the Solomon Islands in foreign aid between 2011 and 2017, compared to the CCP’s $39,000 over the same time frame.

Not to be deterred, Sogavare was quoted as telling the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that, “To be honest, when it comes to economics and politics, Taiwan is completely useless to us” slightly ahead of his decision.

The administration had already generated heat for itself in the eyes of citizens when a Sept. 1, 2019 repatriation flight from Guangzhou to Honiara was revealed to have brought home only 23 residents out of 108 passengers.

The remainder were Chinese nationals, “The bulk of them are Chinese Embassy staff, technical personnel and private contractors who were flying in to start the construction of sporting venues for the 2023 Pacific Games in Honiara,” reported RNZ.

UK-based The Times said in an article that noted this week’s riots had targeted Chinese businesses, that “China has since built a large embassy in the centre of the capital.”

CNN Wire said that after Sogavare showed his devotion to the Communist Party, Malaita Premier Daniel Suidani immediately began to challenge the central government, announcing an independence referendum and vowing to refuse Chinese investment.

Not only did Suidani refuse Chinese investment, he accepted 50 tons of rice donated by Taiwan in June of 2020. Taiwan also sent face masks and other personal protective equipment.

Both the Sogavare administration and the Chinese Embassy voiced their displeasure with the dissenting Premier.

In 2020, the United States under the Donald Trump administration disbursed a $20 million USD grant, primarily focused on Malaita.

This past June, Suidani incensed Sogavare, and his relationship with the CCP, further when he made a point of travelling to Taiwan for treatment of a suspected brain tumor.

According to Solomon Star News, when Suidani returned home in October, he was met with a hero’s welcome.

In a Nov. 26 article published by the ABC, Sogavare continued to spin rhetoric, claiming that Malaitans “are fed with false and deliberate lies about the [Taiwan-to-Beijing] switch.” The Prime Minister framed this as “the only issue,” and that the riots were being “influenced and encouraged by other powers.”

“These very countries that are now influencing Malaita are the countries that don’t want ties with the People’s Republic of China and they are discouraging Solomon Islands to enter into diplomatic relations and to comply with international law and the United Nations resolution,” said the Prime Minister.

“I don’t want to name names, we’ll leave it there, we know who they are,” he said.